Merry Christmas! I know that for many, today is the day after Christmas, but for most Catholics around the world, today is not merely the day after Christmas, it is the Second Day of Christmas. A few weeks ago, I wrote about anticipating Christmas, but more importantly, enjoying and appreciating the days after Christmas – the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS!
We all know the song and its seemingly endless list of Christmas gifts. The English Christmas carol was first published in 1780 and was a rhyme, not a song with music. It may even originally have been a French chant. English composer, Frederic Austin, first published the musical arrangement we are familiar with today including the recurring word “on” which did not appear in earlier versions. The exact origins of the song are unknown, but it is believed to have been a children’s game played on the English festival, Twelfth Night, that, over time, evolved into a chant and then a song. Many have suggested that the twelve gifts have Biblical meaning though most modern scholars dismiss this claim. While that suggestion has been debunked, it it is interesting to note that there are exactly 364 gifts, one for each of the year except Christmas.
While all of that is well and good, none of it explains exactly why we believe that Christmas should be celebrated for twelve days and not just one. One reason is that the Church implores us to recognize the importance of Christmas and to reflect on its meaning for more than a day (especially important today when you consider that most people never even gave Jesus a single thought on December 25th). Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. Never mind that history did not record the actual date of His birth. It’s the celebration and the meaning of Christ’s coming that are important, not the exact date in history. Christmas commemorates the single most important date in history, the day that “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1: 14).
What can we do to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas today? We can go to daily Mass, of course, but there are other things that were done throughout history when it was better understood that these are days of reflection and commemoration. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to return to these practices today. There are several important feast days during these Twelve Days that can still have meaning for us today in the celebration of the day and the actions that were once associated with them.
December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. It is traditionally a day where Christians commemorated St. Stephen by giving their Christmas leftovers to the poor. December 27th is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. It was through John that the world learned that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh” (John 1:1). It is considered a day of reconciliation (taken to heart by Pope John Paul II who visited and forgave his would-be assassin on this day in 1983). December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the babies who were killed by Herod in his attempt to stop Christ from becoming king. For a number of centuries, it was a day when children were allowed to run the household, the country, or even the Church (with the appointment of a child Bishop for the Day). It is considered a day of fun and folly for children.
December 29th is the feast of St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury in the 1100s. It is considered a day to examine our lives and resolve to work to overcome injustice in the world. December 30th and 31st are alternately celebrated as the feast day of the Holy Family, depending upon the liturgical calendar of the year. This should be a day to reflect on Mary, Jospeh, and Jesus as a role model family and what we can do to help our families become more holy. January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Traditionally, it was a day when families prayed the Rosary together. January 2nd is the feast day of both St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen who were teachers of the trinity and lifelong friends. It is a day to celebrate friendship. Parties were traditionally held on this day to celebrate the Christmas holiday with friends.
On January 3rd, we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. It is a day on which we should celebrate a person’s name and its meaning. We should recall that, as the Catechism states, “Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.” Depending upon when the first Sunday after Christmas is, the feast of the Epiphany is celebrated between January 2nd and 8th. The arrival of the Magi is sometimes marked by a blessing of the house, especially the entranceway, to welcome the Lord and all visitors. Some Christian households inscribe “20 + C + M + B 19” over their doors, the traditional date of the new year and the initials of the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). January 6th is the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. It is the twelfth and final day of Christmas, the culmination of the season, the third epiphany of Christ’s infancy (the first was to the shepherds, the second was to the Magi, and the third was to Simeon and Anna at the temple).
However you celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, the importance thing is to CELEBRATE! Though you may go back to work and the kids back to school, keep with the Christmas spirit. Acknowledge that there is more to the season than just a day of giving presents and eating too much food. Presents are given to symbolize the greatest present of all – Christ to the world. They shouldn’t be the main focus of Christmas. Think of the Twelve Days of Christmas as your honeymoon period with Christ. Revel in it and in the joy of His coming and birth. Before you know it, we will be entering into Lent, and Christmas will be a faint memory. Enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
The more days the merrier: Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas
When Is Christmas Over: January 1? Epiphany? Candlemas? (Whatever that Is)
You’ve Heard the Song — but What are the 12 Days of Christmas?
What I was writing about a year ago this week: Seeing Jesus.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).